WHEN KISS wiped off the makeup in the early 1980s, heavy metal's cartoon Gorgons rubbed away much of their mystique as well. Hence, the band's fans welcomed the reapplication of the greasepaint in the 1990s when the band embarked on a series of mega-bucks tours.
Only two albums into their career, extreme metal quartet Mudvayne -- vocalist Chad Gray, guitarist Greg Tribbett, drummer Matt McDonough and bassist Ryan Martinie -- has also ditched the Grand Guignol trappings that made them look like a vaudevillian version of Slipknot. But this move doesn't appear to be a concession to NPR listeners. Nor is it a symptom of the band's painful descent into nice and mellow fellows.
Just listen to Mudvayne's third album, "Lost and Found," which entered Billboard's album chart at No. 2 the first week of its release in April. Strafing guitar riffage? Check. Semiautomatic drum fire? Check. Searching lyrics about alienation delivered in a tracheotomy rasp? It's all there, and it's reaping dividends. "Happy?" -- the first single from "Lost and Found" -- is Mudvayne's biggest radio hit to date, and the band is riding that wave on the 10th anniversary Ozzfest, where they share the bill with grandpas of metal Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden (touring together for the first time) and a host of up-and-comers.
"We felt we had afforded ourselves the right to do what we want to do," Gray says of the band's makeover. "Just taking off the makeup, it's another look, 'cause no one's ever seen us! We just felt it's what we needed to do now."
Mudvayne, whose first two albums "L.D. 50" and "The End of All Things to Come" combined to sell almost 1.5 million copies, is angling to be a player in the current metal renaissance that includes Ozzfest performers As I Lay Dying, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage, among others.
Moreover, "Lost and Found" sees Mudvayne moving oh-so-slowly away from songs that focus strictly inward, with tracks like "Choices" and "TV Radio" offering social commentary.
"People hear something aggressive and immediately think it's negative," Gray says. "But a lot of metal is trying to get a message across. The cool thing about metal is that it's always there. It might surface and then dive into the underground, but it never goes away."
AS goes the makeup, so go Mudvayne's other musical excesses, according to Gray, who credits the band's new commitment to songwriting -- i.e., the tender interludes in "Happy?" -- as another giant leap for metal-kind.
"In the past, we used to just write parts and cram them all together and call it a song," Gray says. "With this album, we wanted to refine our craft. People want to scream sellout, but we feel that radio came to us, and that's not a bad thing."
Gray points to Black Sabbath as leading by example, forcing the best metal bands to write music that survives longer than the standard post-gig earache.
"Every band on Ozzfest has to give Ozzy and Sabbath a big thank you," says Gray, who listened to his parents' Sabbath records as a kid in Decatur, Ill. "They spawned everything that's going on in metal right now. They've been around for how long, and now they're headlining the biggest summer tour for kids? I'm just fortunate and glad to be a part of it."
This is the second time that Mudvayne has appeared at Ozzfest, but Gray has yet to meet his heroes on this go-round.
"Ozzy backed out of a few shows, but he seems to be doing OK," he says. As for Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, "I didn't meet him, I just waved at him. He does have a very friendly wave, however."
Marc Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: Main stage: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slipknot, Mudvayne, Shadows Fall, Black Label Society, In Flames. Second stage: Rob Zombie, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, Mastodon, a Dozen Furies, the Haunted, Arch Enemy, Black Dahlia Murder, Bury Your Dead, It Dies Today, Soil Work, Trivium, Gizmachi, Wicked Wisdom.
Where: Hyundai Pavilion, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Price: $35.50 to $135.50
Info: (909) 880-6500 or www.ticketmaster.com